Ask any of the young actors performing with Santa Barbara theater group Upstage Left about their schedule this summer, and they’re likely to reply with: “Rehearsal. Always.”
And they’re not exaggerating.
This year, Upstage Left has given Santa Barbara multiple productions, beginning with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) in Elings Park, then Hello! My Baby at Santa Barbara High. This weekend they’ll wrap up the season with Cabaret at Santa Barbara High School (SBHS). The shows have featured students from four area high schools — SBHS, Dos Pueblos, San Marcos, and Laguna Blanca. With some rehearsals lasting as long as 13 hours, one can only imagine how these young actors handled the intensity.
“Half of us are in pajamas on the floor while the other half are in high-heeled dance shoes kicking higher than our heads,” said Mary Cusimano. “We are all spread out over Santa Barbara, but we all come to the same place to do what we all love. There’s a certain kind of magic in that.”
As the only student representing Laguna Blanca and one of the four actors who has performed in all three shows, Allison Lewis Towbes admits that she was nervous joining the cast, but once she got there, she “realized how silly [it] was to worry. Everyone has been welcoming and fun; we’ve really created a safe space for each other to work.”
It was a good thing that the cast all got acquainted with each other so well and so quickly because they had quite a process ahead of them. Led by director Otto Layman, who is now in his 18th year as the Performing Arts Department chair at Santa Barbara High, the actors in Cabaret have delved deep into the show’s backstory. “On the first day of rehearsal, Otto basically gave us a whole lecture of what was going on in 1920s Berlin and all of Europe,” recalled Cusimano.
Layman has been much more than just a director to these highly motivated kids. “Working through intense eight-hour rehearsals with a cast over a short period — much like the real world of the theater — has been fulfilling and artistically gratifying, especially since we can work on adult material with mature, intelligent actors,” he said.
Looking back, one can see that Cabaret represents a departure from Upstage Left’s previous shows. “Cabaret is relevant and timely. Its darkness is tempered by an almost macabre humor and the show-stopping songs require actors of maturity and passion,” explained Layman. And actors of maturity and passion are exactly what Layman has gotten with this cast. They’ve taken on the gritty grandeur of Cabaret without apprehension, and the result is sure to be a show to remember for these students, whether it’s their last show before leaving for college or the first show of their much-anticipated senior year.
Catch Cabaret at Santa Barbara High School’s Auditorium (700 E. Anapamu St.) Thursday-Sunday, August 8-10 at 7 p.m. Call (805) 966-9101 x220 or visit sbhstheatre.com for tickets and info.